What Is an Apprenticeship and What Value Can It Bring to Your Career?

A few months after graduating high school, my mother decided to entrust me into the services of a well-known hair stylist in my neighborhood. Her reasoning was that I’d fall in love with the art of making others look beautiful and combine it with whatever career I choose to settle in.

It was the perfect dream; a college-educated journalist with a hair styling side-gig. My pathway to this dream was an apprenticeship program.

In this article, I’ll talk about what an apprenticeship really is and how you can benefit your career from it.

What is an apprenticeship?

Apprenticeship is a system that allows you to get paid while you’re trained for the skills needed to succeed in your career.

Call it what you want; skilled-trade, blue-collar jobs, vocational education, or the career path less traveled, apprenticeship can be your ticket to your dream job.

Not only does it allow you to step into the occupation of your dreams, you actually earn a wage while learning on the job, and can decide if it is the right fit for you without investing thousands like you normally would at a traditional college.

The differences between apprenticeships and internships

What comes close to apprenticeship is internships but with a difference. While internships are usually set up as a way to practice what you’ve learned in school before you become employed, with apprenticeship, you’re already a worker. You’re getting paid to learn. This means less risk for student loans and other college-related expenses to accumulate only to discover that you have an unclear career path.

Apprenticeships also give you longer term, real on-the-job experiences which are directly tied to what you learn in the classroom. These training are very structured and by the time you are done with your learning, you’re almost guaranteed to be hired on as a full-time worker.

Internships on the other hand are very short-term and despite the fact that you do walk away with lifelong skills, they do not always lead to job offers.

Some internships are unpaid or might give you a stipend in exchange for you time. Apprenticeships, however, due to their competitive nature, are similar to regular employment. They pay more than internships and some programs attract top candidates with benefit packages including health insurance, paid vacations, paid holidays, and pension plans.

Misconception about being an apprentice

It is no secret that apprenticeships are less popular than they used to.

For some occupations, becoming an apprentice was the only way to pass the knowledge and skills down to the next generation as there aren’t many colleges that offer credit courses. Careers in the shipbuilding, carpentry, welding, plumbing, and textile industries all have history dating back to apprenticeship and family traditions.

Today, we are seeing an impressive comeback of these programs and classes but with more sophistication.

Unfortunately there are some barriers to apprenticeship regaining its lost glory as:

It’s a slave-master relationship.

When the word apprentice is uttered, the first image that pops up is that of an unfortunate or reluctant person forced to wash, clean, cook, and run errands just to have his or her master pass on trade skills.

Many apprenticeship programs are registered and monitored to ensure the welfare of apprentices. The fear that you would be taken advantage of is unfounded.

Labor laws are followed and respected, and like any other workplace, grievances can be filed if your rights have been infringed upon.

Apprentices are uneducated.

There is still a recurring myth that apprentices are sent to “hole in the wall” shops where masters drill all the mechanics of a job into your skull.

Today, apprenticeship programs are legally recognized and have agencies that regulate their operation. Some programs are not only more selective than most Ivy colleges, they are tuition-free and once accepted, graduates can go on to receive associates or bachelors degrees through partnerships with universities.((U.S. News. Plugging apprenticeship to plug the skills gap))

Apprenticeship programs provide you an alternative pathway to college education and works for most industries. For instance, they prepare you for high-demand occupations in healthcare like being a pharmacy technician, a paramedic, or an emergency medical technician (EMT).

You can’t make a living as a “blue collar” worker.

While it is almost inconceivable that an apprentice would earn the same wage as a physician, most apprentices go on to build financially stable lives.

But the fact that being an apprentice is afterthought in the event of failure is a false stereotype.

Laurent Camera, education reporter for U.S. News writes that:((U.S. News: Apprenticeship efforts still hampered by stereotypes))

“According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average wage for an individual who has completed an apprenticeship is $50,000, which over a lifetime can add up to approximately $300,000 more in wages and benefits compared with their peers.”

This is definitely a far cry from the poverty-stricken stories you hear about apprentices.

How apprenticeship can bring value to your career

1. You get very close to what you REALLY want to do in your chosen field.

Unlike certain internships where you’re sometimes relegated to grunt work and would need to seek permission before you could get close to the interesting parts, you’re fully thrust into your field of work from day one.

With this early involvement, you get the sense of fulfillment faster than you would’ve if you waited 4 years to experience what your career entails.

At the same time, you also have the chance to back out from a career if you discover that you’ve quickly fallen out of love with your chosen field.

For example, remember my brief stint as a beauty apprentice? It didn’t work out. After about 6 months of reporting to a hair salon and learning the intricacies of braiding, I quit.

I soon discovered that I didn’t love my job and not only saved myself from exorbitant fees at a 2-year beauty college, I saved my employer some precious time in the process.

So, how do you get REALLY close to apprenticeship opportunities?

  • Visit community and technical colleges. The best move is to visit your state technical colleges. Most times, these institutions have partnerships with local employers who systematically feed graduates into their workforce through a structured training.
  • Visit your local library. Another equally good move is to visit your local library and ask to speak with a job specialist. Libraries have always been underrated but is a goldmine for opportunities in career development.
  • Search for apprenticeship opportunities online. We’re no longer dealing with “hole in the wall” shops. Most employers have taken their apprenticeship programs online and will publicly provide contact information should you wish to speak with a live person.

2. Employers crave loyalty and dedication. Apprenticeship programs highlight these qualities in you.

Being an apprentice builds character in ways ordinary jobs or internships cannot. It takes anywhere from 2 to 5 years to successfully graduate from a decent apprenticeship program. That’s a lot of time dedicated to honing your craft, gaining highly specialized skills, and building your career from entry-level to middle class income without job-hopping.

While the nature of apprenticeships itself dissuades job-hopping due to the lengthy period, it takes commitment, patience and perseverance to stick with a 4-year apprenticeship program to receive professional certifications.

This allow companies to look inside the organization for top-performing employees who can be trained for leadership and managerial roles or promoted in times of growth and expansion.

3. You can bridge the “skills gap” in the economy.

Most employers bemoan the lack of qualified candidates in the labor market due to factors such as weak educational programs, lackluster internship experiences, and poor job fit.

Other times, it’s due to a shortage of highly-skilled workers and a surplus of low-skilled workers. Upskilling with apprenticeship can solve this problem.

We are already seeing reports of a likely shortage of approximately 40 million high- skilled workers and 45 million medium-skill workers by 2020.((Fortune. How U.S. companies can fill the skills gap)) By focusing on specific skill-set, employers have exactly what they want at the right time and how they want it.

If you are currently employed and would love to gain additional certifications, ask your employer if there are work-and-learn programs that can help you bridge this gap. Most companies are willing invest in employees’ professional development if there is ambition and commitment displayed from the employee.

The bottom line

You are just be one step away from the career of your dreams. There are apprenticeship programs out there looking for enthusiastic workers, and you might be the perfect fit.